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字 vs. 文字

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字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Wed 09.16.2009 3:53 am

My textbooks use different Japanese words to mean "(kanji/kana) character": some use 字(じ), and others use 文字(もじ).

I asked a married couple of native speakers if 字 and 文字 are indeed synonyms. To my surprise, they begin arguing about it!

Finally, after consulting their dusty J->E dictionary, she triumphantly announced that both words are translated "character", and are therefore interchangeable. However, he refused to admit defeat, maintaining that, at least in the past, 文字 meant something quite distinct from 字, though I couldn't quite follow his Japanese explanation of exactly what that distinction was. I remember him writing down one kanji character (I think it was 思), and calling that a 字, and then writing another next to it (to form a compound word?), and apparently indicating that the two characters taken together were now a 文字 .

So does/did 文字 really mean something more specific than 字/"character"?
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby keatonatron » Wed 09.16.2009 4:27 am

I think they are different.

字 most always refers to a single character, whereas 文字 can refer to a group of characters (notice the addition of the character 文, which is also used in words like 文書).

字 can also be used to talk about the way a character was written. The phrase "字が汚い" means the way someone writes each character (usually kanji) is sloppy. As far as I know, you can't say "文字が汚い".

Speaking of which, I have a feeling 字 often implies kanji (another hint: 漢), while 文字 can refer to all Japanese characters.

There might also be a distinction with 字 often meaning handwriting and 文字 often meaning typed or electronic letters, but I'm not sure.
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby inuinu » Wed 09.16.2009 8:06 am

◆本来、基本になる象形・指事文字である「文」に対し、それらをもとにした会意・形声文字を「字」という。

と、Yahoo辞書にありました。

「文」は「あや」とも読むし、「文様」などと使われているように
「形・紋・模様」という感じの意味です。
対象の形を模すことで意味を表す象形文字などが「文」にあたり、
それらを組み合わせて一文字にしたものが「字」にあたるという見方のようです。
だから「字」にあたるのは、一部の単純な象形漢字を除いた残りの漢字だけのようです。
象形文字が組み合わされたものではなく
象形文字から直接表音文字になったフェニキア文字が元であるアルファベットは
「文」にあたるようですね。
それら全てを含めるのが「文字」ということのようです。

ただし、現代の一般人はこのような区別をまったく気にしていないでしょう。
「文字」も「字」も同じと捉えて問題ないと思います。
「文」はもちろん「字」や「文字」とは違いますが。
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tasuketai to omou.
dakedo eigo ha nigate.
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Wed 09.16.2009 5:14 pm

Thanks keatonatron! Your great examples really cleared things up. Also, your feeling that 字 implies kanji while 文字 can include kana is consistent with Storm's Ultimate Japanese textbook that teaches kanji AND kana in each lesson's「文字」 section.

I also appreciate your comments, inuinuさん. 残念ですが、私の日本語は苦手なので、ご説明はよくわかりませんでした。 Here's my best effort to translate what you said, but as you can see, I had to quit halfway through because I was unable to follow your reasoning (I'm especially fuzzy on the precise meaining of 「~にあたる」here):


◆本来、基本になる象形・指事文字である「文」に対し、それらをもとにした会意・形声文字を「字」という。


◆ Essentially, whereas “文” is a basic pictographic / ideographic character , “字” is referred to as a compound ideographic / semasio-phonetic character.

と、Yahoo辞書にありました。


...according to Yahoo dictionary.

「文」は「あや」とも読むし、「文様」などと使われているように
「形・紋・模様」という感じの意味です。


“文” can also be used to mean “figure” or “pattern” in the same way as “形”, “紋”, and “模様”.

対象の形を模すことで意味を表す象形文字などが「文」にあたり、
それらを組み合わせて一文字にしたものが「字」にあたるという見方のようです。


Pictographs like “文” display meaning by imitating an object's form, and joining such a pictograph with another character seems to form a "字”.

だから「字」にあたるのは、一部の単純な象形漢字を除いた残りの漢字だけのようです。


So “字” is a remnant of a simple pictographic kanji with one part removed.


(At this point I realized I was not understanding correctly... :? )
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby coco » Wed 09.16.2009 10:33 pm

Generally we don't have clear differences about the definitions between 文字 and 字 in daily life. Both can signify "character(s)".

この字が読めない。
この文字が読めない。

We can use both when we can't read a character( include Hiragana, katatana, kanji, even foreign characters; like キリル文字、梵(ぼん)).

However, in limited topics about the origin of kanji characters, 文 and 字 have each definition. According to some explanations:

文(もん) is a smallest element of Kanji which consists of Pictograms and Ideograms.
字 is an combination of 文. Ideogrammic compounds and Phono-semantic compound characters are categorized as 字.
Regarding kanji characters, 文字 is a collective term of 文 and 字. 

-------
edit:
I personally use
二字(にじ)熟語-- without 文
三文字(さんもじ)熟語
四字(よじ)熟語-- without 文
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Thu 09.17.2009 5:27 pm

Thanks coco! Now I get what inuinu was talkin' about. :D
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby ss » Thu 09.17.2009 11:47 pm

I find this topic quite interesting and I have my thought on this 字 and 文字 too. I can't express my thought well in words precisely, but I'd like to try, forgive me if it's off-topic.

Add to what had been said, 字 by itself means "a character, a letter, a word". Some people might think 字 is like English alphabets A to Z. Using A or B or Y alone, you can't convey a sensible message, however if you string them up, for example using letters S,E,N,T,E,N,C,E, and so forth ..... they will form a word or words (a complete writing) that readable. So, 文字 is like a piece of writing which consists of many 字. (As Coco san said, in actuality, there is no exact differences with these two.)

I just want to point out, ancient Chinese and Japanese can actually use one 字 to convey meanings/feelings that run deep.

It reminds me of some ancient Chinese writing forms, for example 文言文. I think it's 漢文(かんぶん)in Japanese. You can find it in many classical literature. An essay written in 文言文 form, contains less characters (字) compare to its modern form, yet the general sense of the writing (文) remains the same.

For example, in 論語 (Analects)
子曰:「默而識之,學而不厭,誨人不倦,何有於我哉?」(CH 19 字)
Modern spoken form --- 孔子說:不多說,只默記在心,勤學而不厭煩,教人而不疲倦,這些事情,有哪一件是我能做到的呢?(38 字)

子曰く:「黙して之を識し、学びて厭わず、人に誨えて倦まず。何か我有あらんや。」(JP 32)
Modern form --- 先生が言われた、「黙っていて覚えておき、学んで飽きることなく、人に教えて怠らない。[それぐらいは]私にとってなんでもない」(53)

Confucius said, “To gain knowledge quietly; to learn without losing interest; to educate others without feeling wearied ---- which one of these qualities do I possess?”

大哉問!= 你問得好極了!(良い質問だ!) You have asked a very good question (shorten to "good question!")
嘆~ = 嘆息,感嘆,長聲一嘆 (ため息をつく) Sigh
哉~ = 嗚呼!誠哉斯言 (普通感嘆文です) Alas! Oh!
怒~ = 怒不可遏,怒吼,怒氣 (怒気、怒髪天を衝く) Anger, furious

On a side note, "字" can have other meanings as well. Wanna make a guess what this "字" means?

孟子(もうし、紀元前372年? - 紀元前289年)は戦国時代中国の儒学者。姓は孟、諱は軻、字は子輿
顔回(がんかい、紀元前514年 - 紀元前483年)は、孔子の弟子。字は子淵(しえん)。字より顔淵(がんえん)ともいう。魯の人。
諸葛 亮(しょかつ りょう、181年 - 234年)は、中国後漢末期から三国時代の蜀漢の政治家・武将・軍略家・発明家。字は孔明(こうめい)。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Mon 09.21.2009 4:47 pm

文言文 looks so cool! That's how Chinese writing oughtta be: compact, succinct, elegant. If 白話文 hadn't replaced it, the PRC would probably still be using traditional characters, since you can say more with less 字 in 文言文.

On a side note, "字" can have other meanings as well. Wanna make a guess what this "字" means?

"Birthplace"? Henshall's Kanji book says "字"'s original meaning was "house where children are raised", which came to symbolise proliferation, and "fanciful as it may seem, came to be figuratively applied to written symbols, which like children became increasingly numerous and complex." That's pretty fanciful alright; it makes me smile to imagine those ancient Chinese scribes thought of their 字 as children. :)

Yet more off-topic, I stumbled upon a great article that really helped me understand the "method to the madness" of 漢字 by answering the question, "What If English was written like Chinese?" http://www.zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm
Last edited by magma on Mon 09.21.2009 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 09.21.2009 5:38 pm

magma wrote:文言文 looks so cool! That's how Chinese writing oughtta be: compact, succinct, elegant.


And we should still be writing in Latin.

If 白話文 hadn't replaced it, the PRC would probably still be using traditional characters, since you can say more with less 字 in 文言文.


That doesn't have anything to do with traditional vs. simplified characters, though -- you could write 文言文 in simplified characters too if you wanted to.
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Mon 09.21.2009 6:08 pm

And we should still be writing in Latin.

Carpe diem, amicus meus.

Latin inscriptions in stone or marble on fancy buildings can be rather elegant, but I just shake my head as I pass the copies of Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis in the bookstore. I don't know who would associate Latin with the words "compact" or "succinct" (except maybe Latin etymologists who know it's compāctus and succinctus).

Then again, intelligenti pauca. :wink:

you could write 文言文 in simplified characters too if you wanted to.

Sure, but with less 字 per sentence, there's less pressure to reduce the stroke count.

SS's post gives me the impression that 漢字 were originally intended to be used in that very compact 文言文 style where as few characters are used as possible, which I'm assuming is why they were found to be cumbersome for recording 白話 (the vernacular), and hence the push for simplifying the script. But I've also heard that classical Chinese was monosyllabic, i.e. almost all words were just 1 字; but after a couple millenia of phonetic consolidation, that is no longer the case: most 普通話 ("Standard" Chinese) words now require 2 or more 字 to write.

Are there any 文言 experts in the house who know whether or not 文言 ever reflected the spoken language? In other words, is 文言文 the ancient version of 白話文?
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby furrykef » Mon 09.21.2009 9:08 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
magma wrote:文言文 looks so cool! That's how Chinese writing oughtta be: compact, succinct, elegant.


And we should still be writing in Latin.


Possibly not a valid comparison. Despite what many have said over the centuries, I find Latin grammar anything but elegant. More like big, bulky, needlessly complicated. (The "big and bulky" part refers to the grammar itself, not to Latin sentences themselves.) I imagine most foreign learners of English will have an easier time than foreign learners of Latin, if we don't count Romance language speakers. By contrast, I doubt a foreign learner of wenyan will have significantly more difficulty than a foreign learner of baihua, aside of course from the fact that there's hundreds of millions of people who can speak/write baihua and very few people who can write wenyan.

Of course, the comparison is valid in that both wenyan and Latin are dead languages. But I don't think magma meant that people should speak baihua and write wenyan, which is what you seem to be implying (just as people used to speak English/German/whatever and write Latin).

Yudan Taiteki wrote:That doesn't have anything to do with traditional vs. simplified characters, though -- you could write 文言文 in simplified characters too if you wanted to.


I don't really know much about the differences between wenyan and baihua, but isn't the homography that's created by simplification more problematic for baihua? After all, simplified characters are optimized for baihua, not wenyan. Moreover, I understand that stuff written in wenyan is rarely ever written in simplified characters.

magma wrote:
And we should still be writing in Latin.

Carpe diem, amicus meus.


*Thwaps your wrist with a ruler*

"Amice mi"! Both "amicus" and "meus" have special vocative forms. ;)

magma wrote:Latin inscriptions in stone or marble on fancy buildings can be rather elegant, but I just shake my head as I pass the copies of Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis in the bookstore.


Why? If you want to learn Latin, you might as well make the process enjoyable. :)

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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby ss » Tue 09.22.2009 8:47 pm

Of course, no one uses 文言文 these days. :)
However, understanding wenyanwen can be an asset as if someone is interested in learning Chinese culture and actually wants to read Chinese novels/literature written in 古文, you need to learn at least some classical Chinese. And 古文 is mainly written in fanti 繁體, you can find books like si shu 四書,lunyu 論語,zhongyong 中庸,xiaojing 孝經,etc, in wenyanwen, but then, nowadays it's not difficult to get books come with modern baihua 白話 translation handily.

Just a side note. My friend quit her job and decided to pursue a teaching career. Students obviously need not learn wenyanwen, however, being a teacher, she definitely has to undergo professional training and has to learn what wenyanwen is all about. As she said --- "You'll never learn a topic better than when you start studying it and teaching it."

I had a good laugh the other day when she told me her pupils suggested her to use wenyanwen when "lecturing" them, short and fast one, over! :wink: :twisted:
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 09.22.2009 9:41 pm

furrykef wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:That doesn't have anything to do with traditional vs. simplified characters, though -- you could write 文言文 in simplified characters too if you wanted to.


I don't really know much about the differences between wenyan and baihua, but isn't the homography that's created by simplification more problematic for baihua? After all, simplified characters are optimized for baihua, not wenyan. Moreover, I understand that stuff written in wenyan is rarely ever written in simplified characters.


Yes, you're right. 文言文 depends much more on the characters than writing that more closely represents spoken language, so it's very possible that the collapsing of certain characters caused by simplification would make it more difficult (or even in some cases impossible) to read.
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby magma » Wed 09.23.2009 3:51 pm

Wait a sec--I think Yudan was on to something when he compared Latin and 文言. I mean, why did people keep writing in those languages for such a long time after they stopped speaking them? And then, after they'd been writing in them for so long, why did they stop?

And another thing: is it just me, or did the writing systems created for Latin and 文言 both work a lot better in their original languages? Furrykef already exposed my ignorance of Latin, but I'm guessing when the Romans first invented ローマ字, spelling was a snap, but in modern English? Not so much. (By the way, does anybody know how well spelling works in Italian today compared to Latin?)

And in the same way, 漢字 probably worked beautifully in ancient Chinese when: (1) people didn't need quite as many syllables per sentence as they do today, and (2) the phonetic part of each 漢字 actually told you how to pronounce the character! I really got a sense of how much 漢語 changed over the millennia when I discovered that infamous 文言 poem composed entirely of 漢字 which are (today) pronounced shi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den. I played Wikipedia's recorded reading of that poem for one of my native Chinese colleagues who'd never heard of it, and I was totally blown away that he could make any sense out of nothing but shi's!
神は、実に、そのひとり子をお与えになったほどに、世を愛された。
それは御子を信じる者が、ひとりとして滅びることなく、永遠のいのちを持つためである。
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Re: 字 vs. 文字

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 09.23.2009 4:24 pm

magma wrote:Wait a sec--I think Yudan was on to something when he compared Latin and 文言. I mean, why did people keep writing in those languages for such a long time after they stopped speaking them? And then, after they'd been writing in them for so long, why did they stop?


That's what the comparison was meant to be -- Classical Chinese occupied a very similar cultural "space" in the East as Latin did in the West. Latin was said to be more elegant and precise, and more suited for higher-level intellectual pursuits, as well as poetry and literature. No matter what your native vernacular, you could not be considered educated if you could not read and write Latin. People wrote works in Latin instead of their native tongue. All of this can be said about classical Chinese in both Japan and China (and perhaps elsewhere in Asia).

And another thing: is it just me, or did the writing systems created for Latin and 文言 both work a lot better in their original languages?


Arguable; and the situation is a bit different. AFAIK, Latin orthography was largely phonetic, although it didn't use spaces or punctuation and collapsed several sounds together (i.e. I and J).

The problem with evaluating 文言文 is that much of it does not directly represent a spoken language. Obviously it is patterned after Chinese, but considerable abbreviation was used, resulting in sort of a combination code/language that could not always be understood when spoken aloud, but could be read through a combination of Chinese language knowledge and knowledge of the meanings of the Chinese characters and the conventions for using them.

And in the same way, 漢字 probably worked beautifully in ancient Chinese when: (1) people didn't need quite as many syllables per sentence as they do today,


As far as we know, the considerable abbreviation and compactness of literary classical Chinese has never been a feature of the spoken language at any time, but has always been an artificial convention that relied on the fact that the characters could be used for meaning in addition to pronunciation, thus allowing the use of many single-syllable "words" that would be ambiguous in spoken language.

I really got a sense of how much 漢語 changed over the millennia when I discovered that infamous 文言 poem composed entirely of 漢字 which are (today) pronounced shi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den. I played Wikipedia's recorded reading of that poem for one of my native Chinese colleagues who'd never heard of it, and I was totally blown away that he could make any sense out of nothing but shi's!


That poem was written in the 20th century by Chao Yuen Ren, an advocate of romanized Chinese and the use of 白話 instead of 文言. A common myth is that it was written to show that Chinese cannot be written in romanization, but that's almost impossible considering that Chao was a lifetime advocate of romanizing Chinese. Beyond that, I'm not sure whether it was written just as a joke, or whether he intended it to show an inadequacy of classical Chinese.
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